Category Archives: Harry Potter

You and Harry

Call me childish if you will, but I do quite fancy being on the cover of a Harry Potter book. After all, I’m a witch.

Life size cover Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

This life size cover will be at King’s Cross today, somewhere near platform 9 ¾, from seven to seven. I believe you can be photographed inside the 3D cover (and I’m hoping it’s free, but they didn’t actually say), as they are celebrating the new edition of Harry Potter.

I’m fairly sure it’s the same picture as was on the poster Son bought in Sweden back in 2002, and which sat on his wardrobe doors (yes, doors; we cut it in half) for longer than you’d think would be considered cool. Daughter bought another poster, and I bought wallpaper. The real kind, not what you have on a computer. And a suitcase, to transport it all home.

Stop it!

I’m not terribly keen on Martin Amis. I am fairly sure I’ve not read any of his books. So I’m basing my lacking keen-ness on what I know about his person. I could object to his fame. Or to the fact that he probably earns a sizeable amount of money from writing.

The one thing that would never have ocurred to me to do, is suggest he should stop writing books. I don’t think he should. It’s what he does, and according to some people he is pretty good at it.

I liked some of his father’s books, so I accept that Martin most likely has some talent in that direction. He writes. People read and like and pay for the pleasure. That’s fine.

But if your name is J K Rowling and Harry Potter made you more money than most of us can begin to imagine (and I speak as someone used to handling lots of money; just not my own), then it appears it is OK to suggest she should give up writing, and leave her window of opportunity to a few other needy authors.

Why should she? I like the fact that she clearly enjoys writing so much that she does it even when she doesn’t have to, in order to feed and clothe her children. Especially now, when she must have discovered that she will get lots of flak if she publishes another book.

Unless it’s something as unimportant as a children’s book. (These are my words, but the sentiment in the Huffington Post the other day seemed to be that children’s books are not proper books, and that even J K has Lynn Shepherd’s permission to write more. Generous. What if she were to earn an even bigger slice of the author income cake?)

I’ve not read Hilary Mantel’s books either. I have nothing against Hilary, who I’m sure is nice. But I probably won’t choose to read her books while there is so much else I would like to prioritise. She wins prizes. A lot. And while it would be lovely for other writers to win as well, I don’t feel we can suggest that no one should award Hilary any more prizes, in case it upsets her peers. Or that she stops writing in order to prevent literary judges from praising her work.

Cuidado con el perro

That’s when I pushed the Resident IT Consultant forward. If there was going to be any biting by dogs, I didn’t want to be first through the door. Luckily my Spanish was there to warn me. Although, as it turned out, the doggy had been banished to the car. We stopped on our way out and Daughter teased it, a little. I suppose she felt safe enough with a bit of car in between.

So, day two of house speed-dating, or whatever you should call it. I can assure you that by the end of the day the Resident IT Consultant’s head was reeling, and he needed gentle guidance on where which toilet was, and that if the bedroom dimensions seemed small, that’s because it was a bathroom.

Eaves. I still don’t get why a steeper sloping roof has bigger eaves. It ought to be the other way round.

As you may have gathered, Daughter joined us for the day. She wasn’t in the slightest impressed by the estate agent who jokingly placed her in the boxroom, next to those eaves. But she did open all under stairs cupboards and make Harry Potter jokes. And, she felt the doggy property was straight out of Privet Drive.

I began the day by putting my boots on (well, I obviously had breakfast and things first first) and as I did so, the thought that I’d prefer not to have to take them off during the day, on account of them being difficult to put on, crossed my mind. That was before I discovered I had a 50p piece in my left boot so it had to come off again. But you will not be surprised to find that two house owners were of the take-your-shoes-off persuasion. Not that we did, but still. It was one of those witchy thoughts I get. Obviously, if I’d found more money in my boots, I would ‘happily’ have removed them. (This is Scotland. How much money can a witch expect to encounter inside her footwear?)

If we were proper people who kept up with all manner of normal stuff, we’d most likely have recognised one house vendor. As he opened a cupboard, which happened to be full of books (weird place to keep your books; as though they are an embarrassment) I noticed a pile of ten or so, new, pristine books, spine out, bearing his name. I refrained from asking if he was an author (which was very lucky), and went on admiring the house.

The silver shoe in the kitchen should have been a clue. We just thought it was an unusual taste in trinkets, but it seems it’s a trophy of the kind a successful football player might get. Because that’s what he was. Anyone normal would probably have said ‘don’t I recognise you?’

We gate-crashed one house viewing and sneaked around in the garden of another. We are fairly sure what we would like. We just can’t act on it yet. And when we can, it’s bound to be too late.

But at least we now have a spreadsheet listing the number of bathrooms and the distance to Lidl…

It’s not all the same to me

Why are we not the same? How come a book published in the English language in Ireland (which is practically British, anyway… 😉) needs to be published again in the UK? It seems so wasteful of resources, not to mention slow.

It must be something to do with money. Do more people make more money with a book published in English in ten different countries? I just get impatient with the waiting. And unlike television shows (although the less said about file sharing, the better) you can generally get hold of the physical book from ‘the other’ place.

Sometimes they are let loose on the same day, all over the world. But mostly not, even if it’s just a week’s difference. Harry Potter was released on the dot of whatever midnight was in every nook and cranny of the world. Because they knew if they didn’t, shops would not be able to sell many later copies, as the fans would have got their ‘cousin in London’ to buy and post the book.

Fine. If you need to have a publisher in each country, why not publish all over the world, in one fell swoop? Surely it would even out in the end? Big selling British novel makes money for publisher in London. In return an American publisher hits the jackpot with some other title they have published.

To return to the television angle for a moment. I love NCIS. First it appears gradually over the American continent on the first night’s screening. At a later point they sell the season to a UK channel I don’t have. This channel expects to make money from the commercials shown. Once they are done, one of the ordinary channels acquires the rights. They, too, want money from advertising.

Later on, I can buy the DVD box set. First comes the R1 version. Much later the R2. There will be a reason I can’t just tune in to CBS on the first night. I know. Advertisers in the US don’t reckon I’ll be buying much of what they want me to spend money on. But here’s the thing; I don’t buy much, if anything, brought to me by the UK advertisers, either. (There’s only so many sofas you can buy in one sale.)

So how does this work with books?

I recently reviewed Simmone Howell’s Girl Defective. Simmone sent it to me, because she reckoned it’ll be a while before it’s available in Britain. I could have bought it from that online bookshop we all love to hate. At least, I think I could have. The .com version no longer forces me back to .co.uk, but merely suggests I might prefer it.

As for working out which publisher to approach, that is also very tricky. The names are often the same in different countries, but that doesn’t mean they publish the same books. A couple of years ago I had to do some detective work in order to find the correct Indian publisher of a book.

The author has written the book. It has been edited and given a cover. The printers have printed. So why not just spread this one book? OK, that would be as un-green as Kenyan green beans. We don’t want to transport books across the globe. So why not print the same thing, but in each country?

Covers. Yes. We don’t fall for the same style. But we could learn. We like Indian food. Why not like Indian book covers? It might make us more open minded. Just like there is a market for new retro covers for crime novels, we could covet cultural covers.

In short, I know very little. But I don’t want to wait. At the moment I’m wanting Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko. It exists. But it will be a long time coming my way, or so the publisher said, once I’d found out who it was (not the same as for the previous two Al Capones).

It’s one thing to wait for an author to write. We have to put up with this. But after that I will just vent my impatience, and snap.

Hanging on, and forgetting

I forget. Not quite everything, but an embarrassing amount.

When there is a new book once a year, even if it’s part of a series I really like, I need to work hard at remembering ‘how we left things.’ Usually I can pick up quickly enough, especially if there’s some coarse hint somewhere near the beginning.

Keeping up with Harry Potter was never a problem. I remembered his name and those of most of his friends and teachers. What’s more, I remembered what they’d done in the last book too.

If someone were to chat to me about when a certain thing happened in Skulduggery Pleasant, I would remember it. What I’d be less sure about is which book it was; the latest one, or one or two further back?

Maybe this is normal for my age. It’s not that I don’t obsess about the books. I do. I especially enjoyed it when, erm, you-know-him did that, thing, at that place…

And how can I forget cliff-hangers? It’s in their very nature that you mustn’t forget. Can’t forget.

Eleanor Updale, Montmorency Returns

So now that I have this new-found interest in Eleanor Updale’s Montmorency, maybe it’s a good thing I am looking at reading all the books in a short period of time. That way I’ll remember what just happened.

I know this isn’t an option when you have to wait for books to be published. And whereas it can’t be the same if you come to Harry Potter now, having missed out on the media frenzy and midnight trips to bookshops, it must feel good to be able to move from the fourth book to the fifth and not have a three year wait.

To return to Eleanor and her books, I was intrigued to see that both Johnny Swanson and The Last Minute are published in paperback within weeks of each other, along with Eleanor’s own reissued Montmorency books and the new fifth book. Someone is wanting an Updale book bath.

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

The Christmas book ad

The advertisement for books for a child for Christmas; which books should it contain? I was happy to stumble upon an ad that seemed to recommend good books. And it did… but it was from The Folio Society, which sells expensive editions.

And what they suggested were classics. The kind the giver and/or their parents, and grandparents, used to read. When you see a suggestion like that you often think that’s all there is. Or you are likely to, if the only ‘new’ book you’ve heard of is Harry Potter, who will soon be joining The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan and Wendy, The Hobbit, Ballet Shoes and Hans Andersen’s Fairy Tales as a classic read.

The kind of book well-meaning adults go on and on about.

At the other end of the scale you have the books ‘everyone’ has heard of, but which don’t necessarily need advertising to sell. Jacqueline Wilson, Horrid Henry, David Walliams, Wimpy Kid. They are all fine! But like the books above, they are obvious choices.

Could we have an ad like The Folio Society’s ‘Best books for kids this Christmas’ that might mention slightly less famous books (and that could also mean the recipient is less likely to have a copy already), but ones that are so very good in a general sense that few children would dislike them if they got them for Christmas?

As The Folio Society ad says, it’s good to leave children alone to read. I’d just like them to have something more recent than what grandad liked when he was a little boy. Considering the books in the ad, they will be aiming at the age group between seven and twelve, roughly?

So, let’s see. Eva Ibbotson. Very reliable choice. What do we think of Michael Morpurgo? I find he is less of a household name among mature buyers than you’d think. Perhaps one of his less famous titles. Philip Pullman. Again, some of his less well known books, so not HDM.

I’m rambling, and you are thinking I’m picking famous names. But away from our select and relatively small group of adults who like children’s books and know about them, I hear people chatting about my big heroes as though they are minor players or newly discovered small fry. Good, but not gods. I have to stop myself from bashing their heads in. (Figuratively.)

Morris Gleitzman. Anything, really. Judith Kerr. Michelle Magorian. Jan Mark.

How am I doing? I’m avoiding picking those authors whose work might be best aimed at a particular age or sex to be successful, however excellent.

By the way, do children still enjoy The Wind in the Willows? Or is it now more of an older person’s choice, rather like Roald Dahl?